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    Petro Express Goes Unbranded

    Chain drops CITGO supplied fuel in favor of own brand.

    CHARLOTTE -- By the end of 2007, Petro Express' 66 stores will take down the CITGO banner at its stations and replace it with its own, the Charlotte Observer reported.

    While the company has not mentioned global politics as the cause for the change, the CITGO brand is being removed from 45 of its locations this year. The decision to go unbranded goes along with ongoing remodeling efforts at locations and a "renewed emphasis on the Petro Express brand," the company stated.

    "We have chosen to market the Petro Express fuel brand in lieu of any national brand," the company said in a written statement. The company did not mention CITGO in the statement and did not return calls for comment from the Observer.

    An employee at one of the 21 remaining CITGO branded stations told the paper that CITGO fuel will continue to be supplied until the final 21 stores are remodeled and that the location will continue to accept CITGO gas cards until that time.

    Petro Express joins another chain, 7-Eleven, in the decision to drop CITGO and become unbranded. 7-Eleven announced that it planned to lose the CITGO banner at 2,100 stations when the 20-year old fuel contract expired last month. While 7-Eleven said it had the contract change in mind for some time, it generated national attention when media connected the decision with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's name-calling at a UN meeting shortly before 7-Eleven's announcement.

    CITGO, the U.S.-based refiner and marketer of Venezuelan owned Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., has become the epicenter of growing displeasure with the country and Hugo Chavez, even resulting in the boycott of stations selling the CITGO branded fuels.

    In Boston, a city council member wants to see the iconic CITGO sign taken down from Fenway Park. In Florida, a lawmaker asked the state to cancel its exclusive fuel contracts with CITGO at its gas stations. In addition, many consumers in New York, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine and Alaska have denied Chavez's offer of free or discounted home heating oil. For more on the CITGO-Chavez blowup, see CSNews' new industry blog, Spare Change, at http://sparechange.csnews.com.

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